Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 19, 2008

The Narrow Path of U.S. Foreign Policy

McClatchy's Warren Strobel writes: Foreign affairs: McCain, Obama view world in starkly different ways

Separated by a generation and by one's legendary military experience, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama offer voters contrasting worldviews, suggesting that they'd pursue different foreign policies as president.

That is of course nonsense.

While Obama and McCain may differ in how to proceed with U.S. exceptionalism, both subscribe to it and the general course of both would deviate only a few degrees left or right from the general line. Writes Strobel:

Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden, promise a return to a traditional Democratic foreign policy that some call liberal internationalism. They favor intervention to stop ethnic slaughter, strengthening global rules against the spread of dangerous weapons and working through international organizations when possible.

McCain, who insists that he's not a clone of President Bush, indicates that he'd pursue a more robust application of U.S. power. He favors aggressive efforts to spread democracy overseas, espouses a hostile view of Russia and seems more inclined to use force and act unilaterally to deal with threats to the country.

How is "intervention" to stop alleged ethnic slaughter not a "robust" application of U.S. power? How does "working through international organizations when possible" differ from being inclined to act unilaterally?

For the victims, the marketing arguments that enables an U.S. president to send bombs down their houses make no difference.

The LA Times sees it more realistic: Obama, McCain aren't worlds apart on foreign policy

John McCain and Barack Obama have been quietly recalibrating their messages on foreign policy in ways that often have moved them closer to the political center -- and to each other.

The Economists comes to the same conclusion:

On a surprising range of foreign-policy issues, the rivals have morphed into each other.

Both candidates are essentially on the same page on every foreign policy issue that is relevant. 

Only if one starts from a very narrow view of possible foreign policy differences one can conclude that these candidates differ. But the world is wide and to talk and then bomb Iran is not the only alternative to bombing Iran outright.

Posted by b on October 19, 2008 at 14:27 UTC | Permalink


Agreed that McCain and Obama's foreign policy positions have largely morphed into each other. There remains one critical difference, however. McCain regards foreigners like a bunch of animals, to be tamed or caged--gooks, wogs, terrorists all. McCain's view comes from his military training which relies on de-humanizing enemies to justify killing them. Obama recognizes foreigners as human beings, possessing inherent dignity and deserving respect. His views come from his mother and from having lived abroad as a child.

These diametrically opposed mindsets will yield starkly different outcomes. McCain is determined to press on with war, occupation and oppression. Obama will try for win-win outcomes insofar as the rabidly militaristic foreign policy mafia and its ditto heads in the media permit.

Posted by: JohnH | Oct 19 2008 14:47 utc | 1

JohnH is entirely correct, but I would simplify it further: John McCain is pro-war on general principle, Obama is neutral on the subject. In this post-nuclear age, I see an enormous, world-changing difference between the two on the subject. Even GW is only pro-war under certain circumstances (witness his neglect of Al Qaida and Afghanistan).

Posted by: SteveH | Oct 19 2008 15:13 utc | 2

When it comes to foreign policy issues the question you want to ask the candidates is where they stand on Israel. Because this is going to be the key player in any U.S. action against Iran over the next presidential term of office. Like it or not, Israel is the Middle East Broker in this. A fundamental participant.

Posted by: Spyware | Oct 19 2008 15:40 utc | 3

When it comes to foreign policy issues the question you want to ask the candidates is where they stand on Israel.

They stand wherever AIPAC tells them to stand, for however long they're told to stand there. Next question?

Posted by: ran | Oct 19 2008 15:54 utc | 4

witness his neglect of Al Qaida and Afghanistan

an endless, brutal occupation of Afghanistan punctuated by airstrikes that routinely murder civilians by the dozens on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border constitutes "neglect" and is somehow not pro-war?

Posted by: ran | Oct 19 2008 16:01 utc | 5

@4 ran

Only asking.

Posted by: Spyware | Oct 19 2008 16:04 utc | 6

Not only that Obama and McCain are no different with respect to US foreign policy, imperialism is and has been for a long time bipartisan, which almost puts in question our democracy as voting presupposes difference.

I made this point in a piece about the last midterm elections, but the points apply equally, it seems, to the presidential election.

Perhaps some will find this read interesting:

Posted by: Aleksandar Jokic | Oct 19 2008 17:37 utc | 7

Zionists may like to imagine that Israel is the ME broker but the reality of amerika's decline dictates that Israel is about to be revealed for what it really is, a tiny population of murdering colonists who will have to back down and learn to live with the indigenous people of the region or go back to where they came from.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Oct 19 2008 19:42 utc | 8


As Noam Chomsky has commented on several occasions, when the United States no longer sees Israel as pivotal to it’s interests in the Middle East Israel will have to transform itself into a secular state and learn to live along side the other peoples of the region. As to “going back to where they came from”—please, take it from me, speaking as a Jew just where is: back where you came from?

Posted by: Spyware | Oct 19 2008 19:54 utc | 9

just where is: back where you came from?

that's easy.

In 2003, for example, 12,383 Jews reportedly chose to emigrate from the former Soviet Union to Israel. But 15,442 went to Germany. The latter country, which had conceived the idea of eliminating Jews altogether just 60 years previously, was more enticing to them than the promised land itself.

Such a powerful wave of immigration has multiplied Germany's Jewish population tenfold from the 20,000 or so at the time the Berlin Wall fell.

But the decision by Soviet Jews to choose Germany over Israel has been cause for serious friction between the two countries. Israel lobbied hard - and ultimately successfully - to persuade Germany to end its generous immigration laws for Jews which encouraged hundreds of thousands to head to the reunited European state after the collapse of communism.


Despite anti-Semitism, Russia lures back Jews

now knock it off.

Posted by: dan of steele | Oct 19 2008 20:17 utc | 10

let me venture a guess, europe.
i may be wildly off target but for some time now i havent seen the Palestinian problem as jew-arab_muslim or even east-west. shaved to its very core, this is western european-every one else. yes, there r non-whites on the isreali side but the core of colonial attitude comes from the the westerners.
send the isrealis of western european origin back, keep the rest and thing become much more conductive for peacful co-existence. hizbullahs rockets, fired for a sustained period might very well acieve this.

Posted by: fool | Oct 19 2008 20:24 utc | 11

Back on to the thread: McCain and Obama singing off the same hymn sheet. This reminds me of the credo of architect Frank Lloyd Wright regarding design commissions. He said the first rule is “Get the job. After that you can turn the client around to your own agenda.” That is precisely what Obama will do. It’s what they all do.

Posted by: Spyware | Oct 19 2008 20:31 utc | 12

Apocalypse John

Posted by: Yuri Andropov | Oct 19 2008 20:45 utc | 13


“now knock it off?” This is downright offensive—by any standards.

Posted by: Spyware | Oct 19 2008 20:50 utc | 14

dear Spyware,

had you considered that others may tire of your constant need for pity? I refuse to feel guilty for something I had absolutely nothing to do with. I already have to deal with the guilt that I must bear for being involved with a US military that killed some 3.5 million Vietnamese and about a million or so Iraqis. Along with the many thousand Serbs, Afghans, and various central Americans there is plenty of guilt to be shared by everyone.

I submit that you are being offensive. now, please knock it off.

Posted by: dan of steele | Oct 19 2008 21:16 utc | 15

Ya, only certain foreign policy positions will get you elected in today's amerika, I expect better only with a series of dem wins, certainly not this go around with the dem taking over command of two hot wars. Hitting the news today, Israel considering old Saudi peace plan with 67 borders. Of course, this is only for headlines, they couldn't negotiate anything with two palestinian states if they wanted to, and they don't. The ridiculous checkerboard map of Israeli and Palestinian territory can't go back that far and can only go as it has, until bombs start landing in jerusalem, perhaps far longer than that. With Iraq's descent into deeper chaos upcoming, I wonder how the pentagon can keep ahold of the oil it needs to go to tehran; expect foot dragging by petraeus with dems somehow not unseating him, just as they did not impeach W. They want the oil too. BHO will be at odds with his own party unless he plays ball.

Posted by: aumana | Oct 19 2008 21:17 utc | 16

While Obama and McCain may differ in how to proceed with U.S. exceptionalism, both subscribe to it and the general course of both would deviate only a few degrees left or right from the general line

Surely a version of "liberal internationalism" is the kind of cosmopolitan justice and multi-lateral consensus intended by the UN. The Declaration of Human Rights provides justiciable universal individual rights. And the US is "exceptional" because the nonpereil military power it wields serves the maintenance of this universal peace.

Well after Bush's knuckleheaded unilateralism and an "exceptionalism" defined by the platitudes puked by some pentacostal god into W's "gut," the neokantians have work to do. I don't know if Obama is a neokantian. I'm convinced nobody knows what Obama thinks or believes. But there seems to be this general idea that things might be enlightened after this strange eight year trip inside the foreign policy equivalent of the Death Star.

You don't mention it here, b, so I'll do it for you. For you, the ideal world will be the one in which the vast abstraction of the "USA" is "destroyed" by the inertia of it's own avarice, afterwhich Germany makes a pipeline deal with Putin, withdraws its soldiers from the safest places in the most dangerous parts of the world, and retreats into a sublime cocoon of beautiful self-worship while vast swarms of humanity in places like Sudan perish as casualties in "unavoidable resource wars" (as you once put it).

There is some, albeit vestigial, forms of justice which an "exceptional" power will be required to defend. Not your insular little Germany. But some power. (And not China. They're pragmatic atheists, flies in the marketplace, and utterly incapable of cranking out a decent rock & roll song. Don't count on them.)

Posted by: slothrop | Oct 19 2008 23:37 utc | 17

but anyway, like I said, McCain's gonna win. So, we'll all have another eight years of horror-show bitching to do.

Posted by: slothrop | Oct 20 2008 0:28 utc | 18

For you, the ideal world will be the one in which the vast abstraction of the "USA" is "destroyed" by the inertia of it's own avarice, afterwhich Germany makes a pipeline deal with Putin, withdraws its soldiers from the safest places in the most dangerous parts of the world, and retreats into a sublime cocoon of beautiful self-worship while vast swarms of humanity in places like Sudan perish as casualties in "unavoidable resource wars"

isn't b lucky to have you putting words in his mouth.

Posted by: annie | Oct 20 2008 0:42 utc | 19

For Sloth:


Posted by: Tantalus | Oct 20 2008 1:16 utc | 20

Well, well.

Posted by: slothrop | Oct 20 2008 1:56 utc | 21

On McCain winning,>check out the comments here. This is pure overdetermination of rightwing neofascist, fuck-up redneck sentiment. But, hey, my goodness, they fucking vote, incontrovertibly polluted fuckheads that the are.>Ideological apocalypse. Brace yourselves.

Posted by: slothrop | Oct 20 2008 3:07 utc | 22

Since there is no test of what would happen with the alternate choices, it is difficult to prove that there will be a difference. However to the extent that US foreign policy is captive of domestic politics (as opposed to guided by the foreign policy elite) there will have to be a great deal of difference between McCain and Obama. What may appear to be a continuity from Bush2 of neglect of Latin America freeing it to go left will be more a situation of being aware and allowing it to continue under an Obama whereas McCain will bring back right wing meddling. Adventurism in Africa based upon imaginary scenarios of oil and resource protection will be less militaristic under an Obama as opposed to McCain. It is not just misguided optimism on part of the rest of the world to be hoping for an Obama win in the elections.

Israel/Palestine problem is beyond the ability of US to fix, given American perspective of the problem is so unenlightened as to be useless and US is more a source of problems than not. Israel needs to wake up to this as only they can make the necessary changes to resolve the issues.

If George W Bush hasn't proved that a president can with the help of a handful of deluded souls utterly destroy American foreign policy, you'll want McCain to to further the destruction. Obama is no dream but McCain is a nightmare.

Posted by: YY | Oct 20 2008 3:10 utc | 23

This election may a well be a nazi plebiscite. Vote yes or no:

1. gas prices: below $2.99. good or bad?
2. surge: yes or njo
3. The DOW is above 9000. The capitalists are happy? yes/no
4. Obama is a communist?
5. are you a proud american who takes responsibility for your own choices? yes/no?


McCain wins.

Palin=afterthought. nothing.

She is the Franz von Papen of American politics.

You watch.

Posted by: slothrop | Oct 20 2008 3:55 utc | 24

Nikkei 225 8,955.89 +262.07 +3.01%
Hang Seng 15,185.91 +631.70 +4.34%
Straits Times 1,922.12 +43.61 +2.32%

Oops, so much for your economic theories, and I'd posit, same for your political ones.

Posted by: Terrible Michael | Oct 20 2008 5:21 utc | 25

fear is real.

we know, whether we admit or not, that it can't keep going the way it's been going.

but we don't have to be afraid.

as a slogan, change is easy. phrases trapped in colorful rectangles slapped on bumpers. or signs in yards, proclaiming fealty to one tribe, or the other one.

as a constant, dynamic force pulling us toward the only thing other than taxes that's guaranteed in this world, it's terrifying.

who can claim the certainty of who they are and how they fit and why we've been given the chance to be here now when the limiting of experience places so much faith in the suspicious measurement of time; that insidious demarcation of a fluidity the possibilities of which we've been dumbed and numbed away from understanding.

maybe frank the rabbit knows

or grandma death

or donnie d.

Posted by: Lizard | Oct 20 2008 6:14 utc | 26

terrible michael @ 25

Nice try, but why bother?

Posted by: Tantalus | Oct 20 2008 11:19 utc | 27

For the victims, the marketing arguments that enables an U.S. president to send bombs down their houses make no difference.

Given that the US military is so huge that any civilian Govt. will have it's hands full trying to rein it in, (unlike many commenters here and elsewhere, I maintain a hope that it may) America has a simple choice if it really wants to do something about the grief and misery (to say nothing of murder, torture and rape) inflicted by the US military and security services.

There is only one side of the political spectrum in the US that even pays lip service to peace and humanity. The hatred displayed by the other, even to their own countrymen, beggars belief.

Only cynicism could coerce a negative opinion of the idealism, honour and optimism of Barrack Obama. That this site hasn't been leading the fight for him with all of their friends still surprises me.

Posted by: waldo | Oct 20 2008 12:45 utc | 28

Obama reportedly says that Powell may have a place in his administration. The path just became a little narrower. And you think we are too cynical, Waldo?

Posted by: ww | Oct 20 2008 13:45 utc | 29

I watched the BBC report claiming that China was moving into recession because it's growth had slipped below 10% for a third quarter and I thought hang on a minute I understand that a recession is defined by the pointy heads as three quarters of negative growth, but is slipping back to 10% growth, a figure most western nations would see as a boom perhaps even an overheating economy, really gonna be defined as a recession. If it is why? Just because China's economy had been growing at close to 20% p.a.? Since meeting or bettering that target forever is clearly impossible, why is China's slip into the high normal range defined as a recession?

How about that the Beeb is now only interested in playing counterpoint to the USuk meme. That means if things are getting bad in US or uk it is necessary to mollify the peeps by asserting things are worse elsewhere.

Two lessons from that the first is the insanity of modern capitalist ethos. Compound continuous growth for a few years and you'll see how quickly the numbers get unsustainable, therefore capitalism is either gonna forever be in boom bang bust mode, or everything good on this rock will be consumed in the space of a couple of generations leaving us to crawl into caves and die.

The second is the stupidity contained in this 'science' of fixed economic definitions that try to apply narrow rules to complexity.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Oct 20 2008 19:11 utc | 30

I missed all of this debate yesterday. After I went off the handle in another thread at a post which claimed that Israel was the rightful power broker for the Mid East or some such. I thought I had better go and put food on the table lest I get caught on the wrong of something in the same way that Annie was here.

While agree with all that has been said here about jewish people no longer being subject to institutional or even casual racism in most cultures we inhabit, I do believe that judeophobia is still quite close to the surface in some of them, particularly from the xtian fundie element.

I don't want to ressurect old debates and I know that many others particularly some of those who live in amerika disagree with me strongly on this and believe that the role of jewish people as the chosen people is too firmly entrenched in fundie xtianity to ever be subsumed to racist rhetoric.

I disagree and fear for the time when after a particularly egregious piece zionist activity; one that is so plainly against the interests of amerika and amerikans it can't be glossed over, these xtian fundies will turn against jews in a heartbeat. On instruction from their charismatic bible thumper naturally.

That contention was rejected by several people who it seemed had more experience with contemporary amerikan fundie thinking than I.

Not too long after that discussion I watched a documentary on the goings on at some officer flight academy at Colorado Springs. The joint had fallen under the thrall of one of the at that time up and coming Televisual god botherer Ted Haggard. He has since been discredited and lost his gig, maybe that was AIPAC's work because he had the majority of the young amerikan men and women in training to be pilots in his cult, often using the types of intimidation including not very veiled hints about how non conformity was a career killer.

A jewish midshipman who had declined the offer of xtianity soon discovered his class mates were calling him a christ killer.

At this allegedly free from religious indoctrination federal academy, flyers for Mel Gibson's "Passion of christ" were left on every seat in the cafeteria.

The documentary by some former catholic shirt lifter priest type, was called 'Constantine's Sword' .
I can't say it isn't some aipac beat up but if it is true it shows how close the old 'shylock' bashing mentality is with the xtians.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Oct 21 2008 10:11 utc | 31

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